I have a bookish confession: it has taken me until now to read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I know, I know, what kind of a book lover am I?? It’s just one that I didn’t read at school and has always been on my TBR, but I never got round to it… until now.
I was inspired to do so now after reading by Dear Reader by Cathy Ritzenberg (a wonderful ode to the joy of reading) where she sings the praises of Pride and Prejudice and since I had a copy (you see, the intention to read it was always there…), I opened it up and was drawn straight in.
Opening sentence: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
The Bennett Sisters
So, if you’re like me and new to the story (I haven’t even seen a TV adaptation of it) then I shall quickly summarise. Set in the time it was written, 1813, our lead character Elizabeth Bennett is one of five sisters along with Jane, Mary, Kitty and Lydia. (Side note: I love how Jane Austen named the most desirable and amiable Bennett sister after herself.)
As the daughter of a Hertfordshire gentleman whose property, Longbourn and money is entailed (only passed onto male heirs) is it imperative that the sisters marry well to secure a decent life for themselves.
This is something their brash, blunt and often over-powering mother is obsessed with (for good reason, you could argue, as she wants her daughters to be looked after and financially secure) and we follow the sisters as they meet eligible young gentlemen.
When a rich and eligible young gentleman, Mr Bingley buys the manor house, Netherfield near Longbourn, he brings along his two sisters and his friend, Mr Darcy. I had, of course, heard of Mr Darcy. A icon of romantic fiction, what was really interesting here was to discover how complex his character is and see his development.
‘Nothing is more deceitful,’ said Mr Darcy, ‘than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast.’
Women’s place in society
What fascinates me is the whole existence of 19th Century upper class women who spend their days visiting friends, having a good old gossip, trying to get themselves husbands, being ‘presented at court’ – it literally is a whole other world. But not one I’d relish to be part of. These women had to marry for survival, their happiness was a lucky by-product.
Through the story, Jane Austen is often cutting about women’s position in society and uses Elizabeth’s character to execute this. She is not willing to settle or be forced into anything, she is as independent as she can be, strong and clever.
There are A LOT of characters in Pride and Prejudice, so I won’t touch on them all here but this very useful character map shows Jane Austen’s perfect planning and how all the people are linked (I’m not including it as a visual as it has some spoilers on it!) and it really makes you appreciate the great structure of the narrative.
Cult classic for a reason
I wasn’t expecting Pride and Prejudice to be so funny and dry – or as effortless to read in its writing style. It doesn’t feel archaic and has a lovely rhythm to it. I had never really considered the title before either, but it perfectly represents the main themes in the book.
In 1813 high society, reputation is everything. Cause people to have a prejudice towards you and you could be ruined and then pride is a precariously balanced thing – too much and it’s arrogance, too little and you’ll be walked all over. This is a huge concern and issue for Jane’s characters and Elizabeth has to address her own prejudices too.
‘And you never allow yourself to be blinded by prejudice?’
‘I hope not.’
‘It is particularly incumbent on those who never change their opinion, to be secure of judging properly first.’Elizabeth questioning mr darcy
Although Pride and Prejudice is a novel with a focus on romance, it is as much about the many unsaid elements of human nature that come together to say so much. I wasn’t expecting it to be like this, so was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I completely appreciate why it has classic cult status and feel enriched for reading it. Now onto Jane Eyre (no, I haven’t read that yet either… don’t judge me!)
- Originally published in 1813;
- My rating: